Compiled by Anthony Wills
Cleethorpes sale falls through, back on the market
The much publicised sale of CLEETHORPES pier has failed to materialize because, it is said, the business consortium Staplecross Property Partnership, who were due to pay £450,000 for it, “failed to fulfil its contractual obligations by the date set”. A new firm of estate agents has been appointed to re-market it. Judging by the amount of media interest already shown there will be no lack of coverage.
Colwyn Bay gets surprise lottery grant
The Heritage Lottery Fund has awarded Conwy County Borough Council a grant of £594,000 towards the development of a business plan to save COLWYN BAY VICTORIA pier. The money will be used to examine ideas put forward by local residents for the restoration of the pier and the creation of a Bay Discovery Centre, to include an interactive exhibition telling the history of Colwyn Bay and a community-led oral history project. It is thought that the discovery of murals by Eric Ravilious and Mary Adshead in the former pier ballroom was an important factor in the HLF’s decision: however it comes at a time when the pier’s ownership is still the subject of a High Court judgement. Former owner Steve Hunt and his mother Gloria are claiming that the Council unlawfully closed the pier, leaving their car and other possessions out of reach. This followed a dispute over £5,144.88 in unpaid council tax and business rates. Mr Hunt insists the pier should be returned to him as it was not sold off to pay the debts. The Council say they have purchased the pier from the receivers for £35,000. They intend to apply for further Lottery funding towards the estimated full cost of £4,379,600 to restore it and the surrounding seafront area. (Please note that this story is subject to constant update.)
Weymouth Pavilion Theatre saved
WEYMOUTH’s Pavilion Theatre, which was threatened with demolition, has been saved after the Council (who own it) agreed to sign a ten year lease with a local community arts association. They are also offering a loan of £150,000 and annual grant aid of £30,000.
Bangor finance crisis
The future of BANGOR pier would seem to be in some doubt. When members of the National Piers Society visited it in May last year as part of their AGM weekend they were told that Bangor City Council, who own it, were facing the challenge of plugging a £2 million black hole for essential maintenance. The pier’s modest income comes from car park receipts, a small entrance charge and rental payments from the lessees of the shops and cafe. The town clerk has said that consultants have been engaged to work out possible approaches to funding bodies: meanwhile a Bangor Appreciation Group has been set up on Facebook.
Shadow minister visits Weston Birnbeck
Shadow Culture Minister Ed Vaizey paid a visit to the derelict BIRNBECK pier at WESTON-SUPER-MARE on 14 April. He met local MP and Culture Minister John Penrose, representatives from CNM Estates (who had still not signed a contract to purchase the pier) and officers from North Somerset Council. He said progress had stalled over the past 18 months and there was a sense of “weary cynicism” in the town regarding the pier, which was acknowledged to be a tricky site. Mr Vaizey, who had been invited to inspect the Grade II* listed structure pier while in town to open a new library, said he was grateful to the RNLI for maintaining some kind of access but that action was needed and he hoped that the DCMS and the Heritage Lottery Fund would look sympathetically on any application. He stressed however that the Fund made its decisions independent of the Government. The Chairman of the Friends Of The Old Pier, Charles McCann, said that any publicity was good publicity. The RNLI have built a large shed on the island to house their boat.
Japanese experts tour British piers
Seven members of the Japanese Port Authority visited the UK between 25 June – 4 July for a tour of the country’s piers. The tour, which was arranged by the National Piers Society, included visits to BRIGHTON PALACE, EASTBOURNE, WESTON-SUPER-MARE GRAND & BIRNBECK, CLEVEDON, BLACKPOOL NORTH, CENTRAL & SOUTH, CROMER (where they attended a performance of Seaside Special) and SOUTHEND.
Herne Bay springs back to life
The HERNE BAY Pier Trust has installed 18 beach huts along the leg of the pier where the fitness centre previously stood. One has been reserved for use by charities, community groups and stalls and the others are showcasing traditional seaside items. There are also pitches for ice-cream seller and entertainers such as acrobats, jugglers, magicians and buskers, as well as helter skelters and other fairground rides. The scheme was officially launched by broadcaster Sandi Toksvig on 6 July. Trust Chairman Doreen Stone said that they wanted to create a fun atmosphere. She said that a poll had shown a large majority against the creation of a marina next door to the pier. An Edwardian Music Hall show was held in the nearby Kings Hall on 12 July to raise money for the pier. The Trust’s motto is Reclaim, Regenerate, Rebuild.
CLACTON pier’s latest £75,000 attraction opened in April. The new Adventure Zone features a Sky Trail High Ropes course from which excellent views of Clacton are guaranteed. It offers a thrilling but safe experience, as trained instructors will be on hand and participants will be harnessed.
Two boys who were on a day trip from Swindon were trapped by a rising tide under WESTON-SUPER-MARE GRAND pier on 7 May. The lifeboat Anna Stock was alerted and arrived at the scene within ten minutes. The boys, who had swallowed seawater, were rescued and taken ashore, where they were treated for lacerations to their legs caused by pier stanchions and sharp barnacles.
BRIGHTON and BOURNEMOUTH, in common with most of the UK, have endured variable weather since Easter. Their beaches were shrouded in mist on the May Bank Holiday weather, reported the Daily Mail (7 May), while the sea temperatures were a chilly 9C. But a visit in mid-June saw the piers crowded with parties of schoolchildren enjoying all the attractions. A mini-heatwave is predicted for the weekend of 7 July.
BLACKPOOL NORTH celebrated its 150th birthday in style. A civic reception was held on the pier on 21 May (the exact day of its opening in 1863) followed by a preview of the various shows to be held in its theatre during the summer season. The Grade II listed structure, which predates the resort’s iconic Tower by over 30 years, was designed by Eugenius Birch and is reckoned to be one of his finest achievements. Owner Peter Sedgwick, who purchased it in 2011 as a present for his wife, said there was a lot more to do in order to entice more people onto the pier and persuade them to spend more money. He has already abolished pier tolls and is now building up a programme of attractions including live entertainment inside and outside the theatre. Blackpool itself fared badly in a recent poll conducted by hotels.com: it came top in a survey of Britain’s dirtiest hotels. This followed on from last year’s Marine Conservation Survey which named its beaches among Britain’s filthiest.
58 swimmers had to be rescued from choppy seas after a charity swim from SOUTHWOLD pier on 26 May was hit by worsening weather. Five lifeboats, an air ambulance and an RAF helicopter were called to the scene. A lifeboat near the pier was used as a makeshift emergency centre to dry the exhausted swimmers off and administer First Aid. Three people were taken to hospital in Great Yarmouth. One competitor, who was rescued by a boat crew, said it was like “swimming on a treadmill”: she had meant to swim south but ended up north of where she began. Luckily everyone pulled from the water was conscious and there were no fatalities
Mystery “yarnbombers” left their mark on SALTBURN pier over the late May Bank Holiday by leaving more of their knitted creations along its length. The theme was “A Day At The Seaside” and included in the display were knitted beach huts, sunbathers, jelly fish and even fish ‘n’ chips! Sadly, however, the colourful display was targeted by vandals just days after being installed.
The RNLI needs to raise £136,000 to pay for operations room, gallery and mechanics workshop for the all-weather lifeboat station on MUMBLES pier if it is to open in December as planned.
Proposals for a “sea taxi” linking SKEGNESS with HUNSTANTON have been welcomed by Skegness town councillors. Council officers met with boat operator William Searles who owns a 60ft LARC – Lighter Aluminium Resupply Craft – dating back to the Vietnam War, when it was used as a troop carrier. Mr Searles converted it twelve years ago into a pleasure craft – the so-called Wash Monster – which takes sightseers out from Hunstanton to view the seal colonies. The vessel has huge wheels and two 300HP V8 diesel engines, which power twin propellers, and can attain 15 mph on the sand and around half that when afloat. Mr Searles has indentified a site next to Skegness pier from which to operate (Hunstanton’s pier was demolished in 1978). The journey across the Wash estuary is 15 miles. Opinion is divided as to which town might benefit the most.
The Queen’s cousin Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, is due to perform the official opening of the new lifeboat station at SOUTHEND pier on 16 July. The Duke is President of the Volunteer Rescue Service of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. After inspecting the centre and talking to the volunteer crew he will visit the new Cultural Centre at the pier head. The Centre has recently won a Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Eastern Region award. It was the scene of a concert staged to launch the town’s bid to become the UK’s Cultural Capital for 2017. Local jazzmen Digby Fairweather and Dominic Ashworth performed alongside opera singer Katy Best and members of the East 15 drama school.
Michael Winterbottom’s biopic of Soho impresario Paul Raymond, The Look Of Love, shown in cinemas in April and May, contained scenes shot on SOUTHWOLD pier. Raymond, whose real name was Geoffrey Quinn, began his career as a mind-reader on CLACTON pier in the late 1940s.
Martin Shaw and Pixie Lott filmed scenes for the next series of BBC1’s Inspector George Gently around SALTBURN pier on 24 April. It is Pixie Lott’s acting debut. She plays a 1960s entertainer at a holiday camp when a body is washed up on Saltburn beach.
A mutoscope (antique end-of-the-pier What The Butler Saw type machine) was sold for £2,300 in Channel 4’s Four Rooms, shown on 23 May. It was later revealed that another of the four bidders would have offered £3,000.
Travel writer Simon Calder reported affectionately on a visit to HYTHE pier in The Independent on 25 May: “There is nothing restored or self-consciously retro about the Hythe Pier Railway. Every half-hour it rattles between the sweet little station at the landward end – all time worn wood beneath a gloss of forest green – and the end of the pier, where the ferry shuttles to Southampton. The electric locomotives began life 96 years ago in, of all places, a mustard gas factory, before starting a peacetime career that has endured for nearly a century. The line is also the shortest commercial link in Britain but it allows passengers to cover the distance between Hythe and Southampton in less than twenty minutes – quicker and cleaner than the circuitous road journey. The pier also provides a platform for a 180 degree swivel around British power: North-West an early form of sustainable energy is still in use at Eling Tide Mill; South-East the forest of gaunt towers that comprise the Fawley oil refinery.”
BBC Radio 4 visited CLEVEDON and WESTON-SUPER-MARE on 17 June to record an edition of its Open Country strand. Presenter Helen Mark interviewed Michelle Michael, joint owner of the GRAND pier at WESTON-SUPER-MARE, before viewing the derelict BIRNBECK pier around the coast in the company of Charles McCann, Chairman of the Friends Of The Old Pier. She then moved on to CLEVEDON (Pier Of The Year 2013) to meet pier mistress Linda Strong and husband & wife acting team Timothy West and Prunella Scales. Together with National Piers Society Media Relations Officer Anthony Wills they watched Waverley arrive to pick up passengers for a trip via Penarth and Ilfracombe to Minehead. The programme was transmitted on 4 July with a repeat two days later. It is available on the BBC i-Player until 13 July.
On 18 June BBC South East presenter Natalie Graham and producer Matthew Wheeler interviewed NPS Media Relations Officer Anthony Wills on BRIGHTON PALACE pier for the regional opt-out programme Inside Out. They then filmed in front of WEST pier with Fred Gray and Rachel Clark of the West Pier Trust. The peg for the programme, which will be transmitted in the South East area on BBC1 on an early evening in September, is the recent Heritage Lottery Award of £11.4 million to the HASTINGS Pier Charity.
And finally: Steve Coogan’s first movie, partly filmed on CROMER pier, has been given a new title: it’s Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa and it will be released in cinemas on 7 August.
(Thanks to Daphne Lewis, Tim Mickleburgh, Tim Wardley and Chris Wyatt for their contributions.)